A mea culpa: Yesterday afternoon, I mocked Jon Heyman for posting a note on Twitter concerning Joba Chamberlain. With little context, Heyman said that the Yanks could have a bullpen of both Joba and Phil Hughes for the playoffs, and I called that statement an unfounded one. I was wrong.
Because the team with the best record in the league can pick which Division Series schedule to play, the Yankees, nursing a 6.5-game lead in that race over the Angels, will probably get the luxury of that choice. Joba Chamberlain, of course, will play into it.
The Yankees’ choice comes down to one of days off. Take a look at the Division Series schedules. If the Yanks opt for the A series, they play five games in eight days and could bring back their games 1 and 2 starters in games 4 and 5. If they opt for the B series, they play five games in seven days and would either bring back their game 1 starter on three days’ rest or use a fourth starter.
At this point in the season, with his recent spate of poor pitching, Joba Chamberlain is nominally the fourth starter. That designation though is still very much up in the air and with 22 games left in the season, Chad Gaudin could potentially claim that spot or Joba could pitch his way out of it. If that is our playoff reality, then the Yankees would probably go with a three-man rotation and the A series. As an added bonus, Joba, facing an innings limit, would earn some extra rest with the A series.
If Joba can reemerge as the top flight starter we know he can be, it would behoove the Yankees to pick the B series. They wouldn’t need to burn their top two starters at the back end of the first round of the playoffs, and they would have a depth advantage over their potential opponents. Lights-out Joba as the fourth starter is nearly unparalleled throughout the rest of baseball.
The opponents, of course, matter. If the season were to end today, the Yankees would draw the Detroit Tigers in the first round. Giving them the A series would result in tougher pitching match-ups for the Yankees. They would have to face Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson in four of the five potential Division Series match-ups. If the Yanks draw the Tigers and choose the B series, the Tigers would have to throw Rick Porcello and Jarrod Washburn. Choices, choices, choices.
For his part, as Tyler Kepner reported, Joe Girardi is staying a bit mum. “There are two different division series,” the Yanks’ manager said. “In one, you need three starters, and in one you need four. I’ll just leave it at that.”
I’ll leave at this: It will come down to Joba. If he pitches well, the Yanks will want him in their rotation. If he doesn’t, they can avoid the question for a round and figure out how best to deploy him from the bullpen, if they are to use him in the Division Series at all. On the verge of October, it remains all about Joba.